Watch now – eat this, cure that, learn little

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The NBC Today program offered an inane segment labeled “Eat This, Cure That.”

It was formulaic and overly simplistic. The anchor and a guest walked behind tables of food displays and quickly told viewers about the wonders of the various items on display.

What’s wrong with that approach? The segment provided no time get into details about the quality of the evidence behind the claims – so, instead, viewers were told about foods that – broadly – can “cure and even prevent illness.” But not one shred of evidence was provided.

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The segment stated that eating one cup of black beans can help ease migraine pain. Viewers should be given some data to back that up.

They were told that eating sunflower seeds can lower the risk of cold or flu by 20%. Again, evidence please. What studies? In how many people?

And people who were about to give a big speech were told to eat red peppers. How many red peppers? How far in advance before speaking? Where’s the evidence for this stuff?

All of these claims may have some scientific basis, but the certainty of the language – “cure…prevent…lower risk…ease pain…help soothe” – is too certain and too sweeping for a 3-minute TV segment.

TV doesn’t educate anyone when it rushes through such topics, dumbing down any scientific evidence that does exist and misleading viewers about the true quality of the evidence.

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January 4, 2010 at 2:02 pm

You may complain that TV provides a “dumbed down” approach to nutrition in medicine, but we don’t do much better in the clinic. Not that clinicians avoid making dietary recommendations based on minimal data: there is a clinic at UCLA medical center that will examine cancer patients and make recommendations about which supplements and dietary strategies they should be using, even though there is no scientific evidence that such approaches are beneficial. So don’t single out the TV people–even the people who ought to know better are playing the diet card.

Gary Schwitzer

January 4, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Your point is well taken.
However, I am a journalist trying to clean up the journalism side of the street. As you know, this site is all about improving the quality of health journalism.
Sometimes my students will complain to me, “Why do you blame journalism for all of these problems? Why not pin it on the docs?” My response is, “If I taught in a medical school, that would be my message. But I don’t. I teach journalism. Let somebody on the med school side clean up their side of the street.”
So it’s not that I’m “singling out” the TV people. It’s just that’s my side of the street.
Thanks for your note.

Ed Harris

January 5, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I think the picture of a shrimp cocktail says it all. They could have put a big bowl of gummy bears or beef jerky and it would not have mattered. This segment never should have been aired.
And I have been in the health industry for 30 years!

Nancy Ortiz, MS, RD

January 11, 2010 at 8:17 am

Which is why Registered Dietitians need to have their scope of practice in Health Care Reform increased and utilized more by Physicians.